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Broadband's Impact

FCC Officials Outline Plans for $100 Million in Funding for Rural Broadband Experiments

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WASHINGTON, July 29, 2014 – In a webinar on Thursday, July 17, the Fiber to the Home Council hosted a webinar with Federal Communications Commission officials on a $100 million fund for expanding broadband capabilities to rural communities. FCC officials encouraged companies to apply for the funds, but also cautioning them of the heavy commitment.

The FCC voted at its July 11 monthly meeting to authorize the experiments, and applicants have until Oct. 14 to bid for funding. The $100 million will be split into three categories, said Jonathan Chambers, Chief of the FCC’s Office of Strategic Planning & Policy Analysis. About $75 million will be used for testing networks that service plans at 25 Megabit per second downloads and 5 Mbps uploads. Another $15 million will go to testing delivery service at 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps upload speeds in high cost areas. The remaining $10 million will go to 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps upload service in remote rural areas.

The experiment will allow the FCC to test its reverse auction mechanism for Phase II of the Connect America Fund, and to better see where interest for high-speed broadband is expressed and by whom.

As a rule, Chambers said the FCC will not discriminate between types of services: “In terms of the expression of interest we received, we got ranges of projects in the hundreds of thousands and hundreds of millions of dollars. We wanted to ensure we get some diversity in the projects.”

The key is cost effectiveness, he added.

“We’re just going to select the most cost-effective project first, and then the second-most cost effective, and keep selecting until we’ve used up the $75 million, and the [follow the] same process for the $15 [and $10] million,” Chambers said. “As long as people meet the performance criteria…there’s no beauty contest. There’s no, ‘we value one type of service more than another.’ It’s going to be run as a reverse auction. Low bid wins.”

Limits will be placed on how much funding certain projects can bid for so that “several winners” are chosen, Chambers said. For example, projects in the high performance bracket are limited to $20 million. A percentage ranking system will determine which bids are most cost effective. Once entities are selected, support will be granted annually over a ten year period and the grunt work of building out or upgrading networks should ensue quickly.

“People should not be reluctant because they have a smaller project or a different type of project at all in terms of filing and participating in the program,” FTTH Council’s Counsel Tom Cohen said. “Don’t say, ‘they’re only going to do two projects.’”

Only price capped carriers in areas eligible for Phase II of the Connect America Fund can participate in the experiments, added Carol Mattey, Deputy Bureau Chief of the FCC. Funds will be distributed on a census block-by-block basis, added Chambers, to ensure “the fairest comparative measure.”

To make the process easier, companies don’t have to be eligible telecommunications carriers at the time of entering their bid, Mattey said. If they’re announced as winners in the public notice, however, then they must seek a designation as such an entity.

But while “the FCC is making it relatively easy to submit an application,” Cohen told applicants: “you better have your homework and due diligence work in your back pocket. Once you’re selected, you undertake a real obligation to do this. You don’t want to be in default. There are accountability measures the commission has to have so you need to keep that in mind.”

To secure the FCC’s dispersed fundings, companies need to obtain a letter of credit from eligible banks, as was done with the Mobility Fund, Mattey said. If performance failures are observed, the FCC “will draw on the letter of credit and recoup the funding.”

The build-out requirements once a bid has won are largely the same as those for Phase II of Connect America, Mattey added. Each company has three years to build out to 85 percent of locations, and to the rest by five years. Companies that already plans set in motion can opt for an accelerated disbursement of funding if they can commit upfront to meeting deployment of broadband to 25 percent of their area within 15 months. In exchange, 30 percent of funding will be delivered upfront.

In conjunction with the experiment, Chambers concluded by saying that the FCC is also undergoing a proceeding on potentially raising the definition of high-speed broadband. Currently, the FCC defines it at 4 Mbps. But it is considering the prospect of raising it to 10 Mbps, and perhaps even beyond that, he said.

 

Digital Inclusion

Digital Inclusion Leaders a Critical Step to Closing Digital Divide: National League of Cities

The National League of Cities said government leaders need to have ‘multiple points of engagement’ with communities.

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Lena Geraghty, National League of Cities director of urban innovation

WASHINGTON, January 20, 2022 – To understand the digital divide, cities need to include digital equity leaders in their broadband needs assessment programs, the National League of Cities said at an event on community connectivity challenges Wednesday.

A broadband needs assessment would allow city leaders to explore the extent of the digital divide in their communities, said Lena Geraghty, the National League of Cities’ director of urban innovation.

“[A needs assessment] enable city leaders to dig into who’s being excluded, what’s currently available in your city, and what solutions city leaders can use” to close the digital divide, she said.

“The community is going to know best about where access exists, where gaps exist, and the needs that will make connectivity better,” Geraghty said. To get the best picture of a community’s need, stakeholders must find and include the community’s digital equity leaders in the data-gathering process, she added.

“These could be people that are knowledgeable about digital equity or people that are experiencing the digital divide,” she said. “Think really broadly about what it means to be a leader and the type of information these folks can bring to bear in solving the digital divide in your communities.”

Geraghty said it may be useful to formalize the leaders’ work by creating a broadband working group or ad hoc committee led by the city’s government. “Giving some roles and responsibilities can help everyone move in the same in direction, there’s agreement, and really clear goals and outcomes.”

Geraghty added that it’s important for government leaders to establish multiple points of engagement for the community. “It’s not enough to gather data or information from people once,” she said. “The state of access to the internet and devices is always changing,” so leaders should create multiple touch points for community input.

The National League of Cities released its Digital Equity Playbook for cities in December, walking readers through how they can promote digital equity in their cities. The playbook has a four-step process on how to get started with digital equity.

By walking readers through the process of connecting with the community, evaluating the connectivity landscape, gathering foundational information and reporting on findings, city leaders will be prepared to target broadband funding to unserved and underserved areas in their communities.

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Environment

FCC Commissioner Starks Says Commission Looking into Impact of Broadband, 5G on Environment

Starks sat down to discuss the promise of smart grid technology for the environment.

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FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks

WASHINGTON, January 19, 2022 – Former and current leaders within the Federal Communications Commission agreed Thursday that it is important to make sure the FCC’s broadband efforts support the nation’s goals for the environment.

On Thursday, during a Cooley law firm fireside chat event, Robert McDowell, a former FCC director, and current FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks discussed how broadband expansion and next-generation 5G mobile networks will affect the environment.

Starks said that the commission is currently focusing on answering that exact question and are evaluating the current attempts to protect the environment, as more money is expected from the federal government and as broadband infrastructure expands. That includes putting more fiber into the ground and erecting more cell towers, but also allowing for a broadband-enabled smart grid system that will make automated decisions on energy allocation.

Smart grid systems, for example, provide real-time monitoring of the energy used in the electrical system. These systems can help to reduce consumption and carbon emissions, Starks said, by rerouting excess power and addressing power outages instantaneously in the most efficient and environmentally friendly manner. The smart grid systems will monitor “broadband systems in the 900 MHz band,” said Starks.

Starks also noted the Senate’s “Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation” initiative, which would set apart $500 million for cities across America so they can begin working on ways to lower carbon emissions.

FCC also focused on digital discrimination

Starks said the commission is also focusing on “making sure that there is no digital discrimination on income level, race, ethnicity, religion, national origin,” and that it all comes down to funding and who needs the money.

He stated that the first step is to finalize the maps and data that have been collected so funding can be targeted to the areas and people that need it the most. Many have remarked that the $65 billion allocated to broadband from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will not be divvied out until adequate maps are put in place.

Starks noted that broadband subsidy program Lifeline, although fundamental to some people’s lives, is significantly underutilized. Starks stated that participation rates hover around 20 percent, which led the FCC to explore other options while attempting to make Lifeline more effective. For example, the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program – which provides monthly broadband subsidies – has been replaced by the Affordable Connectivity Program, a long-term and revised edition of the pandemic-era program.

Starks and McDowell also stated their support for the confirmation by the Senate of Alan Davidson as the permanent head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and expressed that Davidson will be a key player in these efforts.

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Broadband's Impact

CES 2022: Public-Private Partnerships Key to Building Smart Cities, Tech leaders Say

Public-private partnerships will increase the community benefit of infrastructure projects, leaders at Qualcomm and Verizon said.

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Panelists on the “Smart Cities and Public-Private Partnerships” CES session on Friday.

LAS VEGAS, January 12, 2022––Telecommunications industry leaders said Friday at the Consumer Electronics Show that public-private partnerships will pave the way to realizing the future of smart cities.

Raymond Bauer, director of the domain specialist group that connects governments to Verizon’s telecommunications services, said the government needs private partners to improve its infrastructure efforts.

Referencing the recent passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Bauer said governments should look forward to partnering with private technology companies to improve upcoming infrastructure projects.

“There’s a once in a lifetime opportunity from IIJA,” Bauer said. “We should find common ways to work in a way we haven’t in the past. There are certain goals and use cases to leverage the infrastructure we have,” he said.

The $1.2 trillion bipartisan legislation funds physical and digital infrastructure projects, including $65 billion for the expansion of broadband across the country.

Bauer said communities have a chance to monetize the services Verizon offers to communities if Verizon builds infrastructure for broadband access in underserved areas. “By bridging the digital divide, underserved communities get the services they need,” he added.

Ashok Tipirneni, head of smart cities and connected spaces at Qualcomm, said that cities should be thinking about how technology can improve much-needed infrastructure projects.

“Cities are growing faster than available utility,” he said, citing global issues of housing, water, and equity for vulnerable populations. “How do we ensure access for all citizens? And how can cities be in lock step with new technology, whatever it is?” he asked.

Qualcomm’s Smart Cities Accelerator Program delivers internet of things ecosystem products and services to member cities and local governments.

“New Orleans, Miami, and Los Angeles has local governments asking how they can do better,” he said. “They offer opportunities for partnerships that wouldn’t have been the case a few years ago.”

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